Strip Search Class Action Dismissed (Bull v. San Francisco)

Bull v. San Francisco (CA9) (here) is a huge case raising an interesting issue.  Can a jail have a blanket strip-search policy?  In Bull, the plaintiffs were arrested for non-violent and non-drug offenses.  The lead plaintiff was arrested during a political protest.  Given that stripping a person naked is an affront on a person's dignity, should a jailer be required to search only based on individualized suspicion?

Today the Ninth Circuit, in an en banc opinion, green-lighted blanket strip searches:

To address a serious problem of contraband smuggling in the jail system, Sheriff Michael Hennessey instituted a policy requiring the strip search of all arrestees who were to be introduced into San Francisco’s general jail population for custodial housing. In a class action lawsuit challenging this policy on its face, a district court held that it violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the persons searched, and denied Sheriff Hennessey qualified immunity. Hennessey, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, and the City and County of San Francisco brought this interlocutory appeal, challenging the denial of qualified immunity. A divided panel of this court affirmed the district court’s denial, Bull v. City & County of San Francisco, 539 F.3d 1193 (9th Cir. 2008), and we granted rehearing en banc. Because we conclude that San Francisco’s policy did not violate plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, we reverse the district court’s denial of Sheriff Hennessey’s motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, and in doing so necessarily reverse the district court’s grant of plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment as to Fourth Amendment liability.

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